Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Guest: Top 6 Home-Invasion Films

Without the ominous soundtrack, Halloween setting and knowledge that horror-specialists Adam Wingard and Simon Bennett have written and directed the film, there’d be little reason to suspect any malice in David Collins (Dan Stevens), from this week’s new release The Guest. He’s polite, charming, has a genuine back-story upon arriving at a family’s household about knowing their recently deceased son from the Afghanistan war, and never imposes himself on their hospitality.

But the foreknowledge that something is amiss lends every one of David’s smiles a sinister undertone, every glance the hint of calculated menace.

He may have been invited into the mourning family’s home, but David is immediately cauterized as one cinema’s many home-invaders. The idea of the supposedly private and safe environment of the home being intruded upon is a particularly distressing scenario to witness on the big screen, the fear of which has been exploited many times by filmmakers, particularly in horror - Wingard and Bennett’s previous film You’re Next is an especially pertinent example.

More specifically, David belongs to what is perhaps the most sinister subcategory of these home-invaders – the charming stranger who does not break in but is naively invited into the hitherto benign domestic space. Here are some of cinema’s other great terrorising guests:

6. Killer Joe
David Collins may have been partly inspired by Mayhew McConaughey’s similarly handsome, smooth-talking titular character from 2011’s Killer Joe, although he functions more as a sort of angel of death come to punish a depraved family for their sins than a purveyor of violence towards unfortunate innocents.

5. Shadow of a Doubt
Just as the daughter of the family is the person least willing to accept the stranger into the household in The Guest, Charlie (Teresa Wright) is the character who unveils the true identity of her initially admired visiting uncle (Joseph Cotton) as a murderer, in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Fortunately he is disposed of before causing any harm to the family.   

4. Let the Right One In
‘Be careful who you let in’ runs the tagline of The Guest, which seems to be referencing the title of Thomas Alfredon’s acclaimed Swedish puppy-love vampire story. In that film, the ‘right one’ refers to the vampire, who can only enter her boyfriend’s home if invited in – her survival of killing and feeding on blood depends upon the aid of a companion, who is doomed/blessed (depending on which way you look at it) to this drastic change in lifestyle upon letting her in.

3. Invasion of the Bodysnatchers
Whereas most unwanted invaders in horror films are clearly identified as monsters, the twist in Invasion of the Communists Bodysnatchers is that the antagonists look just like us. Depending on how much you trust the sanity of the protagonist and which ending you see, the invaders are either a surreptitious force taking over the world unnoticed, or the deluded invention of a paranoid madman.

2. The Night of the Hunter
Charles Laughton’s masterfully rendered and beautifully shot masterpiece pits two young siblings against serial killer Reverend Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum). Powell enters the family through marrying the children’s recently widowed mother, but – in keeping with the pattern in The Guest – is mistrusted by the eldest child, who correctly exposes him for being after the family’s secret stash of money.

1 Funny Games

Bourgeois angst of homes being intruded upon is a frequently repeated motif in Michael Haneke’s films, and is most comprehensively dramatized in Funny Games. Two initially friendly-seeming neighbours invite themselves in for a favour, and soon have the family held hostage in their own home. Haneke may have set out to critique what he sees as gratuitous violence in similar home-invasion films, but ended up making what is the most terrifying and effective of the genre. 


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